“Hold them still,” Uncle Jorgan said, sharply, thumping the dry ground with his gnarled walking stick. He never used the thing, except when giving instruction. “Level them up.”
“You will and you must,” Jorgan said, swinging his stick. The sting across the knees was nothing compared to the pulled muscles in the young man’s shoulders. “Drop them, and you die.”
“Dying might be preferable,” the young man said, feebly. The words were hard coming.
“No talking. You must keep the hands steady or die where you stand when the quick fire comes.” Jorgan was yelling now. That was almost as bad as the pain.
The growing burn in the man’s shoulders began to pull at his will. His arms, outstretched before him, trembled under the weight of the heavy stones he balanced on the backs of his hands. He clenched his jaw to hold steady, but it was useless. With no control left, the stones fell to the sand at his feet. He followed them, dropping to his knees, exhausted, beneath the heat of the desert sun.
“Dead,” Jorgan said, with another thump of his stick. “ You will never control the lightning–quick fire without a steady body and mind, Konal.” The young man wanted to protest, but could not catch his breath. His uncle flicked his walking stick and hot sand spattered across Konal’s sweat bathed arms, sticking where it landed. “Are you listening?”
“Yes, Uncle,” Konal said, finally managing a breath. “You know I am.”
Uncle Jorgan stood above Konal, with the sun behind his head. His arms were folded into the heavy cuffs of his robe, making his tall thin frame look like a shadowy figure from darker times. Konal wondered how the old man managed wearing the heavy robes in such high heat.
“Come,” Jorgan said, his voice softening. “If you need rest, this blazing day light is not the place for it.”
Konal only nodded and stood to his feet. As belligerent as his uncle could be, he knew the old man held his best interests. Konal also knew his uncle would rather die than let any true harm fall on him. Sometimes, he thought his uncle protected him too much.
Around them, the Dries wavered in shimmering illusions of heat. The great expanse was flat with rough gravel and sand for its surface. Huge towering monoliths of stone could be seen dotting the landscape as far as sight allowed. It was an inhospitable place that could claim a careless life should it wander about unprotected. Despite all of its hazard though, it was Konal’s home, and he knew it well.
The walk back to the cave was a short one, but stifling just the same. It was one of the hottest days of the summer, and for some reason, when the dead of summer came, Uncle Jorgan pressed Konal all the harder.
He followed his uncle’s steady pace until at last they passed under the lip of a stone shelf that served as shade to the entrance of their home. Jorgan placed his walking stick by the entryway, where it would stay until they trained again. Konal seated himself at a stone table and took water from a pitcher. The water proved warm and satisfying. As the wetness soothed his throat, it reminded him of his dreams.
“I think we’ve had enough for today,” Jorgan said, seating himself on the other side of the crude stone slab. “We will begin again early tomorrow morning. It seems you stand the heat less and less every year.”
“I agree,” Konal said, emptying the pitcher over his head. The sensation thrilled him. “I’m a Stormwalker, not a sand dweller.”
He willed the water from his eyes, dissipating it to a fine mist. He saw his uncle smiling at him.
“What now?” Konal asked, fearful there was a change of plans.
He had no intention of going back out there.
“You are your father’s son, Konal Darmah.”
The words stung Konal, but he smiled anyway. What did his uncle see that he could not? To ask such a thing would gain him a stiff rebuke. The subject of his family was a forbidden one, even though his uncle broached it often enough. Konal learned about who and what he was only at select times, and pressing the issue gained him nothing. He wondered often about his father, constructing an image from all his uncle told him, but he was sure it was lacking. Hurgen Darmah, in Konal’s thoughts, seemed an imposing figure of strength and a stern gaze. For some reason though, in his mind’s eye, he kept seeing his face in place of his father’s. His mother was even more obscure. He knew her to be a lady of great standing and unspoken determination—that was all. Beyond this, he had no idea what properties he gained from her. The folly of trying to envision these two enigmatic people frustrated him so.
Konal decided to carry the subject on, no matter what the consequence. “I have no idea what that means,” he said, firmly. “His image is like a shadow to me.”
“I’m sure of that,” Jorgan said, with a generous smile. It quickly faded though into something else that Konal could not identify. “Should you do well, the time will come when you will be able to see for yourself. But you can not think on such things now. It will only detract from the work you must finish.”
Konal knew that was coming. It was Jorgan’s way of warning him that the conversation was finished. His uncle never stopped reminding Konal he was the son of a great chieftain, but beyond that, the topic was closed. He was, more importantly, according to Jorgan, a Stormwalker. Finish your work here, he would say, and the rest will follow. It was another way the old man ended the conversation.
Konal knew he was different from others, this was certain. He would not be in the Dries otherwise. Sometimes he could draw an inner strength from that knowledge, but more often it caused him fear and confusion. He had a compelling fascination with water and was able to use it in varied and strange ways—or at least strange to his uncle. Jorgan never let on that Konal’s abilities amazed him, but how could they not? Konal was the only living Stormwalker and even his uncle couldn’t always know what to expect. Sometimes late at night he would wake in the dark and shiver, thinking on how alone he truly was.
There was something else too. Despite his coming to adulthood, there never seemed to be an end to his skills. How could his uncle know when the time would be right for their return to Kelidon? Perhaps his uncle could not make that decision. These last few years Konal was beginning to fear his uncle’s judgments, but feared even more the old man’s reaction when he asked about their return. The lessons he learned from the asking were always frightful.
When Konal was twelve years old, he pressed his uncle for an answer, Jorgan ignored him for three weeks as if he were not there. In the end, Konal begged him to speak, when he did, Jorgan made him promise never to ask again. At sixteen Konal broke that promise and sent Jorgan into a rage. The old man dragged him into the desert and staked his hands and feet to the dry ground. He had said, Now Konal you will know the truth of it. We will call the quickfire—the lightning! Under the hot desert sun, his uncle performed an Eld ritual that Konal to this day did not understand. The explosive conclusion still left him shaking. Jorgan had used the mysterious empty bladed hilt that he always wore on his hip, speaking a language Konal had never heard before. It invoked something deep in him, opening an amazing awareness that was both terrifying and pleasurable. The ground heaved and the sky seemed to explode with thunderous lightning, a storm of sorts appeared from nowhere, sending the quick fire directly to his tethered limbs. The power became a part of him, spinning his senses. For only a moment he imagined he experienced his world through the elements around him, and they had become his to command. Then it was over. Jorgan had somehow stopped it, as fast as it had started.
Konal rested back in his chair and closed his eyes, recalling the devastation it had caused—he had caused. The land had bloated and burst open in a hundred places, like a dead cow in the noonday sun. Water gushed from the open wounds filling every bowl and dry cavity, including their home. It took them four days of searching to find the cave where they now lived. That day he learned what a terrible power he had: the gift given to the Stormwalker from the Hammer of the Gree. Afterward, Jorgan told him, with no water in the desert waste, the deep water tried rushing to him from below. The resulting devastation was complete and terrible. Konal decided it would be a long time before he risked breaking his promise again, if ever. It was a bitter thing, this promise.
“What thoughts trouble you now, Konal?” Jorgan asked.
Konal shook his head. “None that I can share without your long silence as an answer.”
Jorgan frowned and Konal wondered if he had broken the promise a third time.
“You must be ready in all things, Konal. All things. As a Stormwalker, you have the power to destroy. Kelidon is a great island in a great sea, and—”
“And with so much water, the temptation to use it will be great.” Konal finished.
“Then you know that we must wait until I’m sure you have control.”
Konal was convinced he would never attain Jorgan’s fanciful goal. “I do have control, Uncle, but the power is wild. A steady hand can only call it and contain it for so long. Sooner or later it must be unleashed. It would crush me otherwise.”
Jorgan pointed out across the expanse of sandy waste sprawling to the horizons beyond their shady place. “Two stones out there say you do not have enough control.”
“I can be steady for only so long. I have remained steady for hours on end, and when the stones finally fall, which they must, you always declare failure. I can’t win this game.”
“It is no game, Konal,” Jorgan said, still watching the desert. “The storms you will be able to call may last for hours and you need to be steady every moment or the wildness will take you. You must understand this. Remember the old house?”
“Yes, Uncle, “ Konal said, “I remember. I am also the first Stormwalker in over a thousand years.” He paused and looked at the empty pitcher. “I do what I am told and nothing more.” Konal waited for a quick lashing response, but none came. Jorgan was quietly attentive as if genuinely listening. Konal decided to gamble on the mood. “I know you’re an Eld of the Gree, that you hear the Silent Five. You know their movements in the world. You rescued me from certain death at the hands of my own clan or worse. If I am the first Stormwalker in centuries, then you must believe the Gree have a purpose for my abilities. Don’t you trust them—or me?”
“The power is still wild, Konal,” he answered, harshly. “You cannot contain the rage of the storm.”
“And I tire of trying, Uncle,” Konal said. “I tell you there is a limit to how long I can hold it back. Sooner or later, it must loose itself through me.”
“And when that power is loosed?” Jorgan asked.
“The power is loosed, there is no controlling it.”
“That, great nephew mine, is what we must work to attain. You know my purpose with all of this.” Jorgan pointed once again across the sandy ground outside.
Konal was surprised the conversation had gone this far. He was equally discouraged though, knowing he had no chance of persuading his uncle to relent in this dreadful training. The thought of leaving danced in his mind. It was not a new thought, but there was always something there holding him to Jorgan, chasing it away. Perhaps it was fear or truth that kept him under his great uncle’s wings. He wondered if it wasn’t a bit of both and once again let the idea of leaving wander off. “There is no end to the argument,” he said with a sigh, “just as there is no end to this infernal heat. I hope the world is cold beyond the Stoans.”
“Have we not gone to Thadd?” Jorgan asked, as if Konal’s statement had more meaning than it did. “Have I not taken you, at least, to see the immediate world beyond the Stoans?”
“Yes, you have,” Konal answered as he stood. “Thadd and some of the lands beyond, but that is all. I have not seen this great island of Kelidon or even the sea that surrounds it. Only your word, the maps, and the word of the villagers, tell me such places exist at all.”
“Konal, there is—”
“No, Uncle,” Konal interrupted. “I know what you will say. I have heard it all my life.”
Konal gazed once more at the glaring landscape beyond the shade. It shimmered with heated illusions as it always did in the endless dead of summer days. He looked away and entered deeper into the cave, leaving his uncle behind.
Immediately, the air cooled. The massive stone surrounding the small cavern defied the drying heat of the desert outside. This had been their home for four years now, a natural collection of chambers all converted over for their comfort. Before they moved, before the deluge, they had lived in similar accommodations. It was all Konal had ever known in his twenty years of life, aside from what he saw in Thadd, and read about in his books.
His room was a climb to the left of the main chamber. He quietly passed, without looking at the furnishings he and his uncle had purchased in Thadd or made. Books were everywhere and maps hung from wooden rods stuck in the cracks of the ceiling. He had studied them all. They were his only hold to the outside world.
His own chamber was a hollow of rock that felt like a giant bowl above and below. It was covered with thick furs, and coverlets, with small hollows in the ceiling and walls where he stuffed his own collection of possessions. He rested back on his coverlets and pillows, closing his eyes, deciding to sleep rather than hear the reasons for continuing the training. With his eyes closed, he tried once again to imagine what his parents looked like.
Again, his face seemed to affix itself to his father’s image. The vision tumbled about in his mind as he drifted off to sleep.
Then, without seeking it, his mind formed the image of a gold pitcher filled with water.
Konal knew he was dreaming. Jorgan taught him how to recognize the place of dreams. It was a discipline of the Elds. Once realized, he could learn from the dream, if he watched and listened. It was the sacred place of the Silent Five—The Gree.
He found himself in a strange room, at least strange to his waking world. He had been here many times before though, while sleeping. A gold pitcher of water sat by his head as he lay on his back. He turned and looked up. A strange old man, seemingly older than Jorgan, towered above him. He appeared as a giant, clothed like Jorgan and speaking muffled words that Konal could not understand. He thought there were others in the room, but he was not sure. He was warm and enclosed in cloth. The giant, ancient man took his hand. There was a flash and a loud noise. The room suddenly filled with a thick haze. The next sensation always confused and thrilled him. His whole body felt as his hand did when immersed in a bowl of water: cool and covered by a weight that seemed to press into every crease in his flesh. It was a strange and entirely unfamiliar sensation. The dream went dark.
Another dream began. The pitcher appeared again, this time in front of him. He peered into it and saw someone’s face. At first, he thought it was his own. The surface of the water rippled away, and the face changed to someone else entirely. For some reason he felt fear. It was a shaded face with eyes that glowed from a strange fire. He tried to focus on the details, but the water rippled and obscured everything except the eyes.
As so many times before, he tried to seize control of the dream by reaching into the pitcher. He always failed, but it never seemed to stop his efforts. He tried again, forcing himself to remain calm and steady, holding his fear at bay while lifting his hand slowly. He felt as if the great stone weight from Jorgan’s training session was on the back of his hand. It grew heavier as his hand came closer to the rim of the pitcher. His heart skipped a beat and then stopped with the stillness. Everything became calm and focused, except for the turbulent water.
Normally the dream would end.
He moved his hand again, this time and for the first time, reaching down into the pitcher. The pressure suddenly shifted, nearly forcing his hand back out. He struggled on and touched the water.
Everything flashed a brilliant white, and again he felt like the immersed hand.
“We are the other’s image, Stormwalker,” came a voice from the mist.
“Who are you?” Konal asked, feeling the vibration of his voice as something tangible and all too real for this state of visions and illusions.
“I am what you see in yourself,” the disembodied voice replied. “We are the same, you and I.” It seemed to come from everywhere.
“Who are you? What is your name?” Konal asked, fearing it could be one of the Silent Five.
“The water is the way between us, Stormwalker. Come. Join me if and when you are ready.”
Suddenly, the world shook as if inside a roll of thunder.
The dream fell away, shattering his control and throwing him awake with a start. Konal sat upright and felt Jorgan’s hand on his own. Jorgan’s face flashed beneath the torchlight and seemed to shake with the thunder.
“Konal, stop the storm!”
Thunder rumbled again and Konal could feel its thumping cadence through his bedding on the stone. He could sense the rage of the storm now, a thing he could almost touch. His heart raced with the roaring sound that fell from the sky outside.
“I didn’t call it,” he said, still wondering if he were awake. “I’ve never—”
“You must have called it from your sleep. You must stop it.”
Konal climbed down out of bed past Jorgan, and ran to the mouth of the cave.
Outside, rain was falling in wind driven torrents. This was no natural storm. He had experienced natural storms during his many visits to Thadd, but never in the Dries. This was a called storm, from the Hammer of the Gree. Konal could feel its pull, heard its voice; a strange music of raw power begging him to join in its wild frenzy. Konal walked out the entrance and under the stone shelf.
“Konal, no,” Jorgan said, but his great uncle’s voice seemed distant and devoid of the command it was used to. Konal turned and faced the old man who stood rigidly behind him. Jorgan’s eyes were wide with a strange fear. Konal was certain that fear was not for him, but of him.
“I have called this?” Konal asked, calmly.
“You must have. No rain falls on the Dries, let alone this storm. Where did you get the water?”
Konal didn’t answer and turned again to face the storm. The lightning arched brilliantly across the roiling sky. It was enticing, luring him to leave the confines of the cave and join in its raw power. The rain was drenching, causing wide rivulets to run away from the mouth of the cave. Konal stepped out into it and looked up behind him. The rain was cold against his flesh. He could not help but smile. Streams of rushing water lined the surface of the monolith as far as could be seen up its tall face; farther still when the lightning flashed. It was then he realized it was night. He had slept until after sunset. It didn’t seem that long, but the dim dark of the sky claimed otherwise.
“Konal,” Jorgan said, stepping into the rain. The old man was clearly distraught. Plainly his great uncle was trying to gain control of him, gain control of the storm and stop it.
Jorgan’s eyes went wide with bewilderment. “You have so little control. Don’t do this! ”
“I don’t remember doing this. I was sleeping.”
“This is a Stormwalker storm,” Jorgan said, his voice struggled against the noise. “This is too much for this place. The ground must have split open, giving up its deep waters. You’re destroying the desert. Stop this storm!”
“I didn’t start it, I tell you. I was sleeping. I was dreaming.”
Jorgan suddenly grabbed Konal’s shoulders. “What were you dreaming, boy?”
The wild frenzy of the storm was calling, urging him to join it and breathe new life into its waning vigor. Konal broke his uncle’s grasp and stepped back.
“What did you dream, Konal?” Jorgan screamed the question at him.
“No,” Konal said, watching the fear grow in his uncle’s eyes. “You tell me now when we will return to Kelidon or I go with the storm.”
“I can not tell you that,” Jorgan answered, his voice trembling beneath the roll of the thunder.
“Tell me or I go, Uncle.”
“I can not tell you, Konal. I can not tell you because I don’t know.” Jorgan’s eyes closed and Konal knew instantly that it was so.
“You never knew, did you?”
“No. You are the first Stormwalker in a thousand years, Konal. How could anyone know?”
He suddenly remembered the words of the voice in his dream.
“Then what have I been doing all my life, but preparing for this?” Konal asked, pointing upward. “This is what I was called to do, yes? This is the time.”
“You are not ready.”
“Ready for what? You have no idea. You’re not a Stormwalker. How can you know?”
“You need to learn control. You have to be able to control the storms you summon. You can not go back to Kelidon uncontrolled.”
“Uncontrolled?” Konal asked, letting the rage of the storm fill his words. “I have to be controlled?”
“Yes. No! I mean—”
“I know what you mean. I understand, now.” The storm rallied beyond, urging Konal to turn and revel in its wild power.
“No, Konal. It’s not that way. You don’t know the whole of whatyou are!”
“Then it is time I found out.”
Konal went into the storm. He opened his arms beneath the blinding pulse of the rain and ran madly across the flat open expanse. The mixture of wet gravel and sand pressing between his knotted toes sent shivers of pleasure up his back. He reached out with all his senses, embracing the wetness in all of its forms. Water and wind whipped against him, yet it felt as if each droplet of rain was an extension of himself.
He was not sure how much time had passed or when it had happened, but he was suddenly startled by an odd impression. He was still moving, perhaps faster than when he had first left the cave. His legs were both pounding out the same rhythm as before, but something had changed. It took him only a moment to understand and with understanding came a joy he could not fully comprehend. His feet were no longer digging into the mucky floor of the desert, but kicking in empty air. He had left the ground. He slowed his running legs to a fluid paddling motion that felt more appropriate, and began to slowly rise.
He looked down and saw nothing, but the rain in torrents swirling beneath him, illuminated briefly by the lightening that seemed no longer to blind him. He wondered why it should at all? It was the quick fire that had somehow been summoned from his dreams.
After some moments, he stopped the upward climb. Immediately, he knew he was in the cold dark heart of the storm. Chunks of ice flew up and down all around him, a thing he had only read about. The frozen water should have torn his body apart, but instead it passed harmlessly around him. The cold was a pleasure, and he seemed to gain strength from it.
Suddenly, his mind jolted into clarity and his body became the storm or the storm became his body. Konal wasn’t sure which and he didn’t care. He was a Stormwalker and the time had come for him to take his first true step. He willed that step and with the forward motion of his right foot, the storm moved away from the cave and out across the Dries.